Saturday, October 6, 2012

Here's Looking At You

Yoga is so much more than a physical fitness regimen, it is in fact a spiritual practice that includes a vast and beautiful tapestry of inquiries and expressions. What most people think of as yoga, on a mat, moving the body, is called asana, and asana is only one piece of an eight limbed system that is hatha yoga.

If you only do asana you are only doing 1/8 of the yoga, only diving in 1/8 of the way. You are missing the boat, swimming in the kiddie pool instead of embarking on the grand voyage.

In my yoga teaching I consistently incorporate themes and practices to educate and encourage my students to come on the journey, the grand expedition into the inner universe; grand, magical, beautiful.    

Since January, once a month I focus my class on a yama or niyama. These are the first two limbs of yoga, they are the ground to root into, the foundation of practice. They consist of ten moral and spiritual precepts, restraints and observances intended to be studied before any physical practice begins.

Yet most yoga students have never heard of them and set out to swim without support or direction.

Today in my class we explored swadhyaya, the niyama of self study and also the study of philosophy and scripture. I focused on self study, on the mat, to then be taken off the mat.

Swami Kripalu said, "The highest form of spiritual practice is self observation without judgment. "This is a great challenge in our western culture which is endlessly strict and endorses self deprecation as an ideal. We confuse self scrutiny for self study and self judgment for humility.

Many of us embarked on our yoga paths with lofty expectations of molding our bodies, sculpting them into a vision of strength and flexibility. The problem is that the body is limited and those expectations don't take into account bone structure, genetic composition, aging and endless physical variances that make us unique and beautiful. We often choose to see these variances as flaws and defects.

We are great at self observation with judgment, self observation with loving kindness is unfamiliar territory.

"Who am I?" is the question at the heart of yoga.

How do you choose to see yourself? You are more than the things you do, the role you play, the identities you fill. You are spirit embodied, you are light and grace, you are perfect and powerful. Infinite, eternal and whole. It always comes back to that.

Bapuji said, "Do not fight the dark, just turn on the light. Breathe and let go into the goodness that you are."

Study yourself, on the mat, off the mat. Look, listen, feel, awaken. Freedom awaits within.      

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